Notre Dame landed an outstanding 2021 recruiting class, but that group was fueled by a great offensive class. There were some high-quality defensive players for sure, but Notre Dame needs to go to the next level in 2022, especially on defense.
There is a dream class out there for Notre Dame if it wants to close the "talent gap" between itself and programs like Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State. Below is my analysis of what that dream class can and should look like.
This list is comprised of prospects that are legitimately on the board for Notre Dame, even though several will be extremely difficult to land, but they are the kind of players that Notre Dame needs to start landing if it wants to close that gap.
DE Tyson Ford - Notre Dame Commit
DE Aiden Gobaira - Notre Dame Commit
DE D.J. Wesolak
DT Anthony Lucas
DT Kaleb Artis
LB Nolan Ziegler - Notre Dame Commit
LB Josh Burnham
LB Niuafe Tuihalamaka
LB Sebastian Cheeks or Jaylen Sneed
S Xavier Nwankpa
S Jaden Mangham or Jake Pope
CB Jaden Mickey - Notre Dame Commit
CB Khamauri Rogers
CB Jyaire Brown - Ohio State Commit
The more players Notre Dame lands from this group the better this class will be.
Ford and Gobaira would be on this list even if they weren't already committed, so that's certainly a great start up front for Mike Elston and the Fighting Irish staff. Ford is a powerful edge player that could play early at the big end position, but he also has the kind of frame that should allow him to move inside at times. Gobaira is off to a great start to his junior season, and his combination of length, athleticism and power you want as a high-upside edge player.
DJ WESOLAK, DEFENSIVE END
Wesolak became an even more important prospect once Gobaira showed himself capable of playing the Vyper. Although he's not considered a highly ranked player (No. 258 composite ranking), Wesolak is the kind of high-upside player Notre Dame has done so well with in recent seasons. Landing a 6-6, 230-pound edge player with long arms is a must for the Irish on the edge. Yes, landing Cyrus Moss would be great, and according to my sources the Irish are still pushing for him, but right now I don't view him as a realistic prospect. If that changes than you add him to the class as well, but a Ford, Gobaira, Wesolak class would be very strong.
DT ANTHONY LUCAS and KALEB ARTIS
To have an elite defense you need big-time players up the middle, and this would be arguably Notre Dame's best defensive tackle haul of the Brian Kelly era. Lucas is special, possessing great size (6-5, 285, long arms) and impressive short-area athleticism. He's a big-time playmaker that could be a dominant three-technique or even play on the edge in three-down alignments. He's a game-changer typer of prospect.
Artis is another prospect that isn't ranked all that high, but he has impressive tools. At 6-5 and 270 pounds, Artis has good length and the frame to get to at least 290 pounds. Like Lucas, he could be an impactful interior player but also play on the outside. Lucas has some tools that could allow him to grow into a nose tackle as well, and he and Lucas could play together.
Landing Lucas alone would be a home run.
Ziegler would also have been on this list even if he wasn't committed. A 6-4, 200-plus pound athlete that could play safety, rover or inside linebacker is very, very rare. Ziegler is a fast riser up the recruiting rankings because more and more recruiting services are realizing how athletic he is, and how high of a ceiling he possesses.
LB JOSH BURNHAM
Burnham is expected to pick between Notre Dame and Michigan tonight sometime after 5:00 PM ET. The Michigan native is a Top 100 recruit (No. 85 on the composite list) that has legitimate five-star upside. He's exceptionally long, athletic, strong and he's just scratching the surface of how good he could be. If Notre Dame lands him with Ziegler it gives the Irish a chance to have one of the nation's best linebacker hauls.
Landing the best linebacker haul in the nation is possible, and Tuihalamaka could hold the key to that. A consensus Top 100 recruit, Tuihalamaka ranks as my No. 1 pure Mike linebacker in this class. Powerful, instinctive and smart while also possessing top-notch short-area quickness and athleticism, Tuihalamaka has all the traits I want in a modern day Mike linebacker. He's a dominant force against the run, he's good as a zone cover defender and he can rush the passer.
Tuihalamaka, Burnham and Ziegler would be as good as any linebacker haul in the country.
LB SEBASTIAN CHEEKS or LB JAYLEN SNEED
Adding one more linebacker to the class would help with the numbers needs at the position, and it would give Notre Dame the hands down best LB haul in the country, assuming that prospect is one of these two players. Cheeks is an explosive athlete that could play all over the field. Sneed has a very similar size and skill set, and he's another high-level athlete on the LB board for the Irish.
Notre Dame desperately needs to hit a home run at safety in the 2022 class, and this duo would certainly get that done. Nwankpa is arguably the best safety in the country, and his film is incredible. He's long (6-2, 190), athletic and his instincts at safety are exceptional. Nwankpa can play the middle of the field (free safety), he can fly downhill and shut down the run game and he's a legitimate cover player. He could be to the 2022 class what Kyle Hamilton was to the 2019 class, he's that kind of player.
S JADEN MANGHAM or S JAKE POPE
Mangham is more about projection at this point, but the tools are impressive. A two-way player in high school, Mangham shows tremendous length and range, and as he gets more comfortable as a defensive player his production will take a big jump forward. Pope is a very underrated prospect that has top-notch athleticism and production.
CB JADEN MICKEY
Mickey is a smart, heady and productive young cornerback that was key to Notre Dame landing in this class. Starting the secondary class off with a player like Mickey was important for Notre Dame.
CB KHAMAURI ROGERS and CB JYAIRE BROWN
Notre Dame absolutely must change its fortunes at cornerback. The four-man 2021 class was a great start, but now it needs to land elite cover players, and there aren't many - if any - better than Rogers and Brown. Rogers is the kind of player Notre Dame needs but never gets. He'd be the best cover corner to sign with Notre Dame in a very, very long time. The scary part is he's not even close to his full potential, with more work needed in the weight room and from a technique standpoint. He's as close as you'll find to a lockdown cornerback.
Brown is the exact opposite of Rogers in that he'll be ready to step on the field and produce the minute he steps foot on the college campus of his choice. He's extremely physical, he has impressive foot agility and his instincts in coverage are outstanding. On top of that, Brown has an incredibly high football IQ and shows elite leadership to the secondary.
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